Excerpts from Reviews and Endorsement Blurbs for The Many Lives of the First Emperor of China

This monograph by Professor Barbieri-Low, like its predecessors, offers brilliant insights into the history of China, and into ways of doing history, by finding a useful perspective that was hitherto ignored. —Mark Edward Lewis,  Journal of Chinese History (April, 2023)

The Many Lives of the First Emperor of China is a clearly written, pioneering book that makes tremendous scholarly contributions to Chinese history and culture. Barbieri-Low has translated many important primary sources and con­sulted with a deep and diverse collection of secondary scholarship. His meticulous discussions of a broad range of excavated and transmitted materials is a testament to his erudition. This book is very useful for courses on Chinese history and culture. It will likely draw students in with its discussion of the current appeal of the First Emperor. Overall, this book is highly recommended for scholars and students who are interested in Chinese civilization. — Zhang Yue Journal of Asian Studies(August 2023)

The entire monograph is stylishly written, poignantly fluent, soundly organized, and logically arranged. Barbieri-Low’s engaging language grabs the attention of the reader who may want to read the whole book in one sitting. For anyone who wants to know more about China’s first empire, its founder, its history, its culture, and its influence, this book is highly recommended. — Patrick Fuliang Shan, The Chinese Historical Review (May, 2023)

Many Lives offers the most well-rounded depiction available in any language of the First Emperor’s personality, lifestyle, and historical era, as well as the subsequent narratives that for centuries shaped how his reign was understood. — Leigh Junco, Los Angeles Review of Books  (March 6, 2023)

The Many Lives of the First Emperor of China is evidence that historical “meta-analysis” can produce a book as absorbing as a good narrative history. It draws the reader into a drama grounded not in biographical detail but in a dazzling array of historical sources and cultural artifacts….If you’ve ever stood agape at the material riches of the Terracotta Warriors or sunk deep into an armchair with a good work of historical fiction or biography, then this book is also for you. — Elizabeth Lawrence,  Asian Review of Books (Sept. 27, 2022)

An excellent survey of the ways that the First Emperor has been created and re-created through time, illustrating how the history and cultural legacies of a single figure can be manipulated in any age and among any group to process and articulate contemporary concerns. The author is also very successful in providing numerous approachable descriptions and translations of primary sources that can used by educators at all levels to introduce students both to ancient China as well as to its relevance to the modern world through a wide variety of means, from archaeology to fiction to videogames. These qualities make this volume an important contribution not only to scholarship on early China but to pedagogy as well. — Glenda Chao, H-NET Reviews.

All in all, this is a very instructive book on the First Emperor. It is a good read for sinologists who want to know what has been made out of what they know already, namely the original historical account by Sima Qian and the archeological discoveries made two thousand years after him. Non-specialists who in our globalized world are interested in the afterlife of the man who unified China, was vilified by Confucian tradition afterwards, was then rehabilitated in the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century, and has attracted much interest in visual culture of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, will certainly also be fascinated by Barbieri-Low’s account.–  Hans van Ess, CLEAR (2023)

Author Barbieri-Low looks at the first emperor of China in a lively, well-written, deeply scholarly book that unpacks how we know what we know about this controversial despot, alternately celebrated and reviled through millennia of history. Journal of Anthropological Research (spring 2023)

A brilliant kaleidoscope of the ever-changing, semi-mythological image and rich cultural history of China’s First Emperor that ranges across millennia from ancient artifacts to contemporary film and literature.  — Martin Kern, Princeton University

A stimulating, innovative book on a major figure in world history.  Barbieri-Low plumbs archaeological and textual materials, including recently excavated manuscripts and inscriptions, for reliable information about the life and times of the First Emperor of Qin; and he juxtaposes his findings with the First Emperor’s wildly divergent later representations in various media. Romping over more than two thousand years, his compelling analysis of their contexts and motivations invites reflections on both the nature and the present-day importance of history and historiography. — Lothar von Falkenhausen, UCLA

This adventurous and important study brings the famous First Emperor of Qin to us through a kaleidoscope of voices. We are given an entirely new way to read and understand the impact of this elusive figure, whose unification of China made “the greatest rupture with the past until the onslaught of modernization.” — Jessica Rawson,  Warden, Merton College, University of Oxford (1994-2010)

A superbly researched and beautifully written study of the ways the First Emperor of China has been interpreted, represented, and appropriated throughout Chinese history. A tremendously exciting work. —Michael Puett, Harvard University

Relatively few [scholars of early history] have sought to consider their topics in light of later times and modern historiography. Rarer still are those who incorporate modern cultural phenomena such as film and video games into their research. These things are Barbieri-Low’s great contribution. —Charles Sanft, University of Tennessee

Makes scholarship on remote ancient history relevant to our contemporary globalized world. The scope of this book is broad across space, time, and academic disciplines. —Guolong Lai, University of Florida.

Excerpts from Reviews and Endorsement Blurbs for Ancient Egypt and Early China: State, Society, and Culture

A pioneering work. This engaging book presents fully documented case studies, on topics ranging from empire to the afterlife. — John Baines, professor emeritus, Egyptology, University of Oxford.

A major and invaluable contribution to the growing body of comparative work on ancient societies. — Walter Scheidel, Department of Classics, Stanford University

Brilliantly conceived and deeply researched, Ancient Egypt and Early China unfolds new perspectives on administrative, legal, scribal, and religious history by way of structural comparison, complete with a sophisticated reflection on the goals, promises, and methodologies of comparative study altogether. — Martin Kern, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University

This is a book of great integrity. Solidly grounded in primary sources and informed by voluminous secondary scholarship in all relevant European languages, it is innovative in its approach, strong on analysis, and very engagingly written: a true masterpiece. It must be read by anyone interested in either China or Egypt or in comparative ancient historiography.
– Lothar von Falkenhausen, Journal of Anthropological Research (Summer 2022)

This is a trail-blazing work that will inspire more comparative studies, whether or not between Egypt and China, for the author has demonstrated the exciting result and the rich potential of comparative history. — Poo Mu-chou, Journal of Chinese History (November 25, 2021)

Without any doubt, the book under review is thought-provoking and challenging, and it certainly will encourage further research. Indeed, Barbieri-Low’s work is an important step in Sino-Egyptian studies, highlighting both the potential and the limitations of the comparative approach. — Danijela Stefanović, American Journal of Archaeology (January 2022)

A treasure trove of information on ancient Egypt and early China. Readers, who already appreciate the advantages of comparative research, will not be disappointed. Some of those who do not may even be converted., — Armin Selbitschka, Journal of Chinese Studies, (July 2022)

Far too much history is written with an ideographic lens, looking at one state or people in isolation from others. It is only the nomothetic lens that allows us to discern difference and novelty. Barbieri-Low has risen to the challenge, producing a first-rate comparison of two great ancient states that hopefully will inspire similar approaches. — Jared Morgan McKinney, Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, 2022

“Highly Recommended” — Choice Academic Reviews (2022)

Excerpts from Reviews of Law, State, and Society in Early Imperial China

The translation of the Zhangjiashan legal texts by Barbieri-Low and Yates will certainly become an indispensable handbook for generations of western scholars of ancient China and an important reference material for any scholar who engages in the study of law and its role in shaping state and society in the early Chinese empires. — Maxim Korolkov, Journal of Chinese History Vol. 1 Special Issue 2 (July  2017)

With Law, State, and Society in Early Imperial China, Anthony J. Barbieri-Low and Robin D. S. Yates have made a signal contribution to the study of early Chinese law and legal practice. This new work combines a complete translation of the early Han legal materials from Zhangjiashan 張家山 tomb no. 247 with an extensive scholarly apparatus and accompanying essays that discuss the texts and what they tell us. Barbieri-Low and Yates’s close engagement with their primary source material and extensive research in secondary sources makes this a work that deserves the attention of all scholars interested in early imperial legal history. — Charles Sanft, Early China 40 (2017) 

This book achieves something that I did not think I would see in my lifetime: a scholarly English translation of the legal texts from the Han-dynasty tomb at Zhangjiashan 張家山. There was a fine German translation of one set of documents from the corpus, the so-called Zouyanshu 奏讞書,  but Anthony J. Barbieri-Low and Robin D. S. Yates have added the much longer Ernian lüling 二年律令, as well as an extensive introductory study (which takes up an entire volume), producing not only a reliable translation of all the legal texts from Zhangjiashan currently available, but also an authoritative overview of early imperial Chinese law. They are to be commended for offering an enormously useful work that will undoubtedly be consulted for decades…. … I place this study at the pinnacle of the field. — Paul Goldin, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 27 no. 2 (2017)

Excerpts from Reviews and Endorsement Blurbs for  Artisans in Early Imperial ChinaTimecover

A sapient guide through not only the bustling, state-regulated markets, but back down the production line to the small private workshops where many of the goods. . . were produced. . . . Barbieri-Low splendidly reanimates [the artisans] lost lives, and gives them due credit for greasing the wheels of China’s first empires.” –Time Magazine, Asia Edition (March 3, 2008)

“The author has taken the reader . . . into the complexities of the often hidden depths of early Chinese society. Barbieri-Low has opened up a whole new field and raised challenging questions . . . [for] many new areas of research.”―Jessica Rawson, Art Bulletin (September 2011)

Artisans in Early Imperial China fills an important gap in the field . . . . Barbieri-Low has produced a solid and insightful work on a topic neglected by scholars in both China and the West.” – Labour/LeTravail (Spring 2009)

“Barbieri-Low’s study provides us with a multifaceted perspective of the lives and working conditions of Han artisans . . . . By providing a bold and grounded interpretation of the lives of artisans, Barbieri-Low has done much to enhance our understanding of the lives of the men who served the elite. More generally, he has illuminated the social and economic dynamics of the early empire.” – American Historical Review (December 2008)

“His thorough and meticulously documented exploration of the milieu in which artisans labored makes a significant contribution that will be useful to all scholars and students of Chinese studies…. …. Barbieri-Low’s book is extremely successful in explicating the social and economic conditions around laborers during China’s early imperial period.” – CAA Reviews (December 17, 2008)

“[Barbieri-Low’s] history of the people in the early workshops, marketplaces, construction sites and foundries who produced art imbues their activity with a vivid sense of contemporary life and times through a combination of solid research and enthusiastic engagement with his subject.” – Orientations (February 2009)

“Featuring a thoroughly scholarly approach with copious notes, a glossary of Chinese characters, and an exhaustive bibliography, this book presents a wonderfully fresh viewpoint; it is a veritable goldmine for students and scholars of Chinese culture. Essential.” –Choice (June 2008) Later named “Outstanding Academic Title” by Choice.

“Barbieri-Low succeeds in demonstrating the effectiveness of adopting a multidisciplinary approach to investigating ancient artisans and their products…. Artisans in Early Imperial China is a major contribution to our understanding of ancient China and to the cross-cultural study of craft production.” – Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Vol. 69 no. 2, 2009).

“A fresh and magisterial treatment of an important topic: the organization of crafts and industries during the Early Imperial period of Chinese civilization. It is without question the most important book―length contribution in English to Han social and economic history in a quarter―century.”―Lothar von Falkenhausen, University of California, Los Angeles

“A welcome study of aspects of Chinese history that have evaded the attention of traditional Chinese scholars. The author clarifies the social place of the artisan and the effects that official patronage and legal restrictionss brought to bear on his work. He shows much about the working conditions in which the masterpieces in our museums were fashioned.”―Michael Loewe, University Lecturer Emeritus in Chinese Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Cambridge

The “consumption” of artworks is a strange experience. We consume the wick of a lamp or a piece of  cake, and rarely ask who made it, how it was made, and how it was sold. But for works of art, this type of information is a basic component of our consumption experience. It is through this message that we can appreciate the specific humanity infused into art-making and maintain a sense of common humanity. But such research is not easy to do with early art history; The social status of early craftsmen is low, and their creative behavior is rarely seen in written records. From this point of view, Professor Anthony Barbieri’s Artisans in Early Imperial China is the imaginative cultivation of human intelligence from a barren land. From a broad perspective, he inspected all aspects of the life and work of craftsmen in the Qin and Han Dynasties. Through its investigation, we have a systematic grasp of the social, economic, and human dimensions of Qin and Han artifacts, and can use them as metaphors to understand the rise and fall of the Qin and Han empires. — Miao Zhe, Zhejiang University (Preface to the Chinese edition 《秦漢工匠》; Shanghai: Sanlian, 2023)

Excerpts from Reviews and Coverage of Recarving China’s Past

“‘Recarving China’s Past,’ organized by Cary Y. Liu, curator of Asian art at the Princeton University Art Museum…is an assiduous, tradition-baiting mapping out of the many hard questions that such a project would have to ask. And those questions ultimately boil down to one: Is the antique monument known as the Wu family shrines a reality, however abraded by time, or a fiction, created and elaborated over centuries? Mr. Liu and several of 40 scholars he worked with – chief among them Michael Nylan from the University of California at Berkeley and Anthony Barbieri-Low from the University of Pittsburgh – wrestle with such issues in the massive catalog. And in effect, the first of the two shows that make up the larger exhibition takes place primarily in its pages.” — Holland Cotter, New York Times, May 4th, 2005.

New Jersey Public Television, State of the Arts episode “Unbroken Thread,” featured a broadcast of my computer reconstruction of the Wu Family Shrines, which was on display at the Princeton University Art Museum.